Coffee is a curious subject. Nerds like me throw terms around like these but what do they all mean? No, it’s not some complicated language but nothing more than a way to describe the darkness of the coffee roast. Each roast level brings out unique characteristics in the beans that are roasted. Here are the characteristics from a high level to help you understand what it’s all about…
Light Roast Coffee: no surface oil, citrus notes, fruity flavors, acidic profile.
Medium Roast: smoother surface, slightly sweeter, balanced flavor and acidity.
Dark Roast: hints of chocolate, bold, bitter, intense flavor and aroma.
So you can see the flavor can change dramatically between roasts. When you get past French roast (very dark, oily beans), the coffee can burn. Most people don’t like that type of uber bold flavor. After this, the beans will catch fire in the roaster. Not a good thing, of course. Well, unless you like the taste of charcoal.
Most of the coffee you buy in the grocery store is medium roast. We suggest you try light, medium and dark to see what you like best and not rely on what you can find in the grocery store. On that note, it’s important to realize that ground coffee in the store is, for the most part, very stale and has lost much flavor. Which is why we believe:
Fresh coffee tastes best!
The above image shows (from left to right): Raw coffee beans, light roast, medium roast, dark roast, French roast.
Yes, raw coffee beans are green, or even sometimes brown, in color. They are very hard. Which leads me to an interesting fact:
Coffee beans aren’t really beans. They are the pit of a cherry. Yes, a cherry. Here’s what they look like when they are picked off the tree:
The fleshy part of the cherry is typically sold to buyers to make tea or even discarded. But I digress. Back to roast levels.
So that is a rudimentary overview. Within those three basic levels are a myriad of other roast types. Blonde Roast, City Roast, Full City Roast, Vienna Roast, French Roast, Italian Roast, Spanish Roast. The reason for this is that beans differ in flavor when roasted and brewed based on how long they have been in the roaster.
In addition, coffee flavor can also vary depending on the soil they grow in, the temperatures of the environment, how they are processed afterward, etc… I may cover more of that in a later post.
In my experience, there is no one best way to brew coffees at different roast levels since the end we are trying to reach is a good cup of coffee. That in itself varies by person and depends on your palette.
Generally speaking, darker roasts are more suited for espresso due to the high concentration of coffee oils. The smoky, bold flavor from these roasts pair well with those oils when mixed with limited amounts of water.
This isn’t to say that you cannot make good espresso out of light roasted beans but it does become more tricky to do so. Lighter roasts, as mentioned earlier, will have a less acidic profile and are more dense due to the higher water content. That density does make it more difficult to pull flavors out into the cup.